You are the proud rider of a horse that you have trained to strike off on the correct canter lead; you can maintain the canter and balance and now it’s time to begin thinking about counter canter.
Counter canter is found in Novice dressage tests upwards and it’s a tricky one because if your horse is anything like mine she just did not want to stay in counter canter, preferring to change legs (not yet my sweet another couple of levels until we get to that) or drop into trot (we worked hard to eliminate that some time ago!)
Counter canter is when your horse is cantering on the opposite lead to the direction it is going in. So the horse will be on the left leg whilst cantering on the right rein.
A movement in the Novice Test might look like this …
- S Half circle right 15 metres diameter returning to the track at V
- V K Counter Canter
- K Working Trot
There are a few pre-requisites to Counter Canter
- Your horse will be working happily on both reins at walk, trot and canter.
- You and your horse will be able to make variation transitions within the paces; lengthening and shortening the stride
- You will be able to achieve a good quality canter with plenty of impulsion
- You will be able to ask for canter depart anywhere in the arena on either rein.
As with my horse, the tendency will be to break the canter or make a flying change of leg. The most important element to preventing this is for you to maintain your canter aids throughout the counter canter and in particular the inside bend. To begin with you should only ask for a small amount of counter canter before riding your horse away onto the true canter lead or a downward transition. This will help ensure that balance, straightness and rhythm is maintained.
Riding Counter Canter
- Helps to improve the over all quality of the true canter.
- Engages the hind leg.
- Helps with suppleness.
- Keeps your horse attentive to your aids.
Counter Canter Exercises
An excellent exercise to begin with is to ride a shallow loop on one long side of the school. Your horse’s bend should remain in the direction of the canter lead throughout the loop.
The counter canter part comes when the horse has left the corner and is on the curved part of the loop. By the corner you are back moving in the direction and bend of the canter lead.
Another good exercise is to pick up working canter and ride a half 15m circle in one corner of the school. Return to the track maintaining the canter, on reaching the track you will now be in counter canter, maintain the bend of the true canter during the counter canter for a few strides before asking for a downward transition.
If your horse manages the counter canter in rhythm and balance and remains straight between your leg and hand you can increase the amount of counter canter strides that you do eventually working your way around the corner. When you become more practiced you can ride circles, serpentines and figures of eight.
Faults During Counter Canter
There are four main faults that will occur when beginning to train the counter canter
- Quarters swinging – The true canter must be engaged and impulsive. Without a free forward movement the quarters will swing and you will need to ensure at all times that you support with the outside rein.
- Loss of straightness – Balance and rhythm will be lost if you have asked for too much counter canter too soon.
- Loss of bend – Due to the horse not sufficiently being wrapped around your inside leg.
- Rushing – Again a balanced and rhythmic true canter is the key. To help you will need to work on improving the lateral work in canter.
The secret to training counter canter is to ensure that your horse is properly engaging the hindquarters whilst staying in balance. You can then ask for a few strides of counter canter and then progress a few more each time as your horse gains strength. Counter canter is one of those exercises that naturally gets better with time and as your horse begins to realise what is being asked of him. It will take a while for your horse to develop the required muscles and balance, so patience is key!